Our Withdrawn Review “Blood Cotton”

Economist, September 4, 2014

Apology: In our review of “The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism” by Edward Baptist, we said: “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.” There has been widespread criticism of this, and rightly so. Slavery was an evil system, in which the great majority of victims were blacks, and the great majority of whites involved in slavery were willing participants and beneficiaries of that evil. We regret having published this and apologise for having done so. We have therefore withdrawn the review, but in the interests of transparency the text remains available only on this special page and appears below.

‘FOR sale: a coloured girl, of very superior qualifications . . . a bright mulatto, fine figure, straight, black hair, and very black eyes; very neat and cleanly in her dress and person.’ Such accounts of people being marketed like livestock punctuate Edward Baptist’s grim history of the business of slavery.

Although the import of African slaves into the United States was stopped in 1807, the country’s internal slave trade continued to prosper and expand for a long time afterwards. Right up until the outbreak of the civil war in 1861, the American-born children and grandchildren of enslaved Africans were bought cheap in Virginia and Maryland to be sold dear in private deals and public auctions to cotton planters in the deep South.

Tall men commanded higher prices than short ones. Women went for less than men. The best bids were for men aged 18 to 25 and for women aged 15 to 22. One slave recalled buyers passing up and down the lines at a Virginia slave auction, asking, ‘What can you do? Are you a good cook? Seamstress? Dairy maid?’ and to the men, ‘Can you plough? Are you a blacksmith?’ Slaves who gave surly answers risked a whipping from their masters.

Raw cotton was America’s most valuable export. It was grown and picked by black slaves. So Mr Baptist, an historian at Cornell University, is not being especially contentious when he says that America owed much of its early growth to the foreign exchange, cheaper raw materials and expanding markets provided by a slave-produced commodity. But he overstates his case when he dismisses ‘the traditional explanations’ for America’s success: its individualistic culture, Puritanism, the lure of open land and high wages, Yankee ingenuity and government policies.

Take, for example, the astonishing increases he cites in both cotton productivity and cotton production. In 1860 a typical slave picked at least three times as much cotton a day as in 1800. In the 1850s cotton production in the southern states doubled to 4m bales and satisfied two-thirds of world consumption. By 1860 the four wealthiest states in the United States, ranked in terms of wealth per white person, were all southern: South Carolina, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia.

Mr Baptist cites the testimony of a few slaves to support his view that these rises in productivity were achieved by pickers being driven to work ever harder by a system of ‘calibrated pain’. The complication here was noted by Hugh Thomas in 1997 in his definitive history, ‘The Slave Trade’; an historian cannot know whether these few spokesmen adequately speak for all.

Another unexamined factor may also have contributed to rises in productivity. Slaves were valuable property, and much harder and, thanks to the decline in supply from Africa, costlier to replace than, say, the Irish peasants that the iron-masters imported into south Wales in the 19th century. Slave owners surely had a vested interest in keeping their ‘hands’ ever fitter and stronger to pick more cotton. Some of the rise in productivity could have come from better treatment. Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.

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  • Frank_DeScushin

    “Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.”

    Mr. Baptist sounds like he could write for the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, or any number of modern media outlets. None of it is a fair account of race issues. It’s all advocacy.

  • Lewis33

    Something I’ve noticed while reading biographies published in the last ten years is the bending over backwards to appease the PC crowd. For example I was recently reading about W. J. Bryan and the author mentioned his failure to address Jim Crow about ten times throughout. Bryan didn’t say much on the issue at all and the author feels the need to point this out over and over in a tsk, tsk, manner. And don’t even try to read something about Andrew Jackson published recently unless you want to know what a horrible white man he was. Ridiculous.

    • Bar none the three best people in post-WBTS American history who had a credible chance to become President and should have but did not are William Jennings Bryan, George Wallace and Pat Buchanan.

      If you have not already, you should visit Bryan’s boyhood home in Salem, Illinois.

      • Zimriel

        No, William Jennings Bryan was a tool. It’s not just that he opposed evolutionary theory. He also wanted an inflationary monetary supply. If you like Bernanke you’d love Bryan.

        • Before you regurgitate yet another line item of late 19th and early 20th Century Republican Party agitprop, you might want to look up “bimetallism.”

      • My wife says I would be very good as Dictator of the North American Empire, or at least Minister of Internal Security.

        • Someone else I should have added was someone whose diaries were reviewed here on AR this summer, George Kennan.

    • E

      The academy is very active on Twitter. I saw this “outrage” manifest itself on Twitter. First the author, a liberal Cornell professor, tweeted out the review accusing it of defending slavery. One of the black whiny pundits picked up, tweeted out his indignation. However things didn’t really pick up until Te-Nahesi, the writer of the reparation piece a few months ago, fired off indignant tweets. It was off to the races, various liberal bloggers stormed in, hashtags created and resulting in the Economist mea culpa today.

  • celtthedog

    Unfortunately, the Economist, which used to be a serious news magazine, caught a bad does of political correctness in the 1990s and is now a shadow of its former self.

    Whereas as late as the 1980s you could take its reports to the bank, it now publishes flat-out lies about immigration and a host of other issues. I’m stunned they actually had the guts in this instance to initially identify advocacy disguised as history.

    Very sad, but that’s the way it goes.

  • Zimriel

    A craven display by the Economist, clearly not motivated by the source material (the slave narratives) nor by the secondary material (Nehemiah Adams, “A South Side View Of Slavery”; Eugene Genovese, “Roll Jordan Roll”).

  • TruthBeTold

    And what would happen if they didn’t offer an apology? Would they boycott?

    It doesn’t seem anyone who objected was of any consequence to the Economist.

  • Paleoconn

    Some old blacks were interviewed in the 1930s and were nostalgic about the past before Emancipation. One gentleman was sad at the passing of his former massa, and he wished to die and join his massa in Heaven and serve him there like he did in slavery days.

    Many slaves loved their master and wept bitterly when sold or when the master died. They were almost family, and many blacks were lost when they were freed. They did not know what to do with themselves.

    • B.A_2014

      Sssshhhh Don’t say that. No one wants to hear the truth.

  • dukem1

    I suggest “The Redneck Manifesto” by Jim Goad.

  • B.A_2014

    As a racial socialist ( I don’t like the term white nationalist ) I want my country to be as homogenous as possible but I’m not opposed to slavery per se. I couldn’t care that so many of our people ( southern europeans also ) profited from it. My sister gave me a book ( my mommy’s skull or some pathetic self pitying title ) on apartheid as a present because she is very distressed by my views. I never read it and won’t be. I know enough about that regime and modern south africa to know had I been an adult during those years I would have supported it. Slavery, apartheid, colonialism, racial cleansing are natural when two or more groups share a space. Better them than us.

    • Carney3

      You should force yourself to read it, all the way through. Prove it with a detailed written synopsis, objectively describing the book’s notable events, themes, and style. Then get her the pro-white or race realist book that you anticipate based on your knowledge of her to be the most effective wake-up call possible. And challenge her to do the same. Fair’s fair.

      • B.A_2014

        she is only 15. I’ll wait a while until she snaps out of fashion obsessed Starbucks drinking pop loving phase ( women do snap out of it don’t they ? ). My mother would take a fit if I tried to introduce her to anything non p.c.

    • The main problem with supporting apartheid is that the situation was entirely wrong and doomed to failure from the start.

      There should never, ever, become a situation where such peoples ‘share’ the same space – particularly in the case of south Africa, where a well ordered, dominant and productive white demographic were catered to by a more numerous non-white populace.

      This is one reason as to why I could never advocate apartheid – it causes more trouble than it is worth. It is quite unjust and becomes doomed to failure in the long run.

      A racially homogeneous nation or space is vastly superior, so this is what ought to be aimed for.

      Anybody who would seek to bring in cheap labour via blacks or whoever else to such a homeland ought to be hounded down and not allowed to promote apartheid as being a way to manage it. It brings nothing but disaster.

      The history of South Africa and the ‘legacy’ of slavery is evidence enough I think.

  • B.A_2014

    Slavery was around long before Christianity nor was the slave trade an altruistic institution.

  • dmxinc

    Way off.

    Slavery was for profit “now” and damn the consequences.

    Look at the history of Haiti to see what happens when a people allow those in their midst to profit with no consideration of the future.

    Our country is suffering in a similar manner for the profits of builders, apartment owners, retailers and governments who all profit from mass foreign immigration.

  • Sick of it

    The railroads were bastions of equality in 19th century America. They killed poor white men (of a great many national origins), free blacks, Chinese, etc. with equal disdain. That’s the equality that modern governments truly aspire to…equality of the grave.

  • Look_A_Squirrel

    Nowhere is it ever revealed that a black man is responsible for the institution of slavery in the US. Ah, the benefits of multiculturalism.

    At the time of the American colonies, slavery had been long abandoned by Europeans. Indentured servitude was common practice. Consisting of a legally binding contract with a set end date and requirements from both parties to the contract.

    Slavery, however was commonly practiced in Africa. Slaves were conquered tribes, those who couldn’t pay debts or children sold by the parents.

    Muslims based in Northern Africa (the Barbary Coast Pirates) were heavily engaged in the slave trade. Starting around 1500 they enslaved white European christians – sailors captured from merchant vessels in the Mediterranean as well as men, women and children stolen in raids on coastal seaports of Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and England. Then, as now, they would exchange the European slaves for ransom (see ISIS) but, if no ransom was paid, sell them into slavery to work in mines, as sex slaves, etc.

    When the black transatlantic slave trade began, Europeans traded rum and spices with African tribal chiefs in exchange for their slaves. These people became indentured servants alongside indentured servants from europe.

    Anthony Johnson arrived in Jamestown in 1621 as an indentured servant from Angola.

    In 1635 Anthony Johnson’s master, Nathaniel Little, released him .

    In 1651 Johnson received 250 acres under the “head right system” which Virignia used to encourage population growth. People bringing servants to the Virginia colony received 50 acres for every new servant. He became master of both black and white servants.

    One of Anthony Johnson’s indentured servants was John Casor. Expecting to be released from his indenture, Casor arranged to work for a white neighbor, Robert Parker. Anthony Johnson went to court claiming that Casor was not a servant but a slave.

    On 8 March 1655, John Casor of Virginia, a former ‘indentured servant’ of Virginia, became the first person to be legally declared a slave for life.

    As time went on, many blacks became slave owners – a history fact the racial grievance industry covers up.

  • As a 10 year-old schoolboy in Oxford, England, we had a school tour of a museum, wherein I got to climb a fake chimney from the inside. The only other kid who could do that was Jan, who was Czech and an amazing athlete.

  • IstvanIN

    Many topics can be discussed objectively. All Marge Schott said was Hitler “was good in the beginning, but went too far” and she ended up like Donald Sterling. I am no fan of Hitler but to discuss him or slavery or just about any topic involving any non-White racial group or official villain is not allowed.

  • OS-Q

    Funny how leftist writers love to deconstruct and make fictional and historical European characters into a bunch of cowards, frauds, drunken brutes, and thieves* in order to be more realistic, but when someone says “not all the white people are horrible, and not all black people are angels,” leftists throw a fit.

    *An example would be the European movie “Beowulf and Grendel” were Beowulf is still the bad guy of the film for trying to kill Grendel, a fun-loving Neanderthal, even after Grendel has killed countless Danes and had raped the woman constantly defending him.

  • OS-Q

    This doesn’t work on a lot of libtards. Your ancestors have “benefited from slavery” whether they were cleaning chimneys in England, mining in Wales, fishing in Hudson Bay, herding reindeer in Finland, or rowing the galleys under a Muslim lash.